The story of Ukraine, and to a lesser extent, its conflict with Russia, reflects a new trend in society’s power distribution. Traditionally, Western Democracies consider power to reside in the State, an entity elected by the power, and in which resides ultimate legal authority. Here in the United States, we see maximum authority residing in our tripartite government: the Congress, the Courts, and the President (legislative, judicial, and executive).
However, in Ukraine, other sectors of society exert their power and influence. Those “other sectors” included several high-profile oligarchs and their “private armies.”
Now, private militias, as they’re known in polite circles, have been in Ukraine since at least the end of World War II. The most prominent of these is the Azov Brigade, founded by Neo-Nazis, and to some national hero, Stepan Bandera. Bandera sided with the Germans and against the Russians when they conquered the Ukraine region during World War II. While Ukraine’s independence was one of Bandera’s life goals, this went far beyond that. He also embraced many of that ideology’s values, including racial division, national hatred, and a sense of Aryan superiority. It was a vicious “stew” that would simmer in Ukrainian homes for generations.
In the last days of 1991, the lid was lifted off that “stew” when the Soviet Union dissolved. At last, Ukraine was free, but those old animosities remained. Parts of Ukraine, particularly Crimea and the Donbas, remained predominantly ethnic Russian, the focus of the militias’ anger.
Thirteen years later, in 2014, the boiling Calderon of Ukraine boiled over. No understanding of the current War in Ukraine is complete without knowing all that happened in 2014.
On February 20, 2014, Russian forces entered Crimea, meeting little resistance; one month later, the annexation of Crimea was complete.
And the opening chapter of that part of Ukraine’s history was written later in 2014 by Amnesty International. In an AI Briefing entitled:
Ukraine: Abuses and war crimes by the Aidar Volunteer Battalion in the north Luhansk region.
The report details the vicious crimes the militias committed against the local people.
“Members of the Aidar territorial defense battalion, operating in the north Luhansk region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.
The Aidar battalion is one of over thirty so-called volunteer battalions to have emerged in the wake of the conflict, which have been loosely integrated into Ukrainian security structures as they seek to retake separatist-held areas.”
Later in the report, Amnesty will note that many of these attacks would be considered “War Crimes” under International Law and that the Central Government of Ukraine had virtually no control over these groups.
Russia reacted by taking over Crimea in March of 2014, where many of these atrocities occurred.
In April, two other Regions (Oblasts) with predominant Russian populations, Donetsk and Luhansk, declared their independence from Ukraine.
These lightning-fast moves shook the Western Powers to the core. Washington, in particular, was alarmed. Remember, as we’ve noted before, Ukraine was the intersection of US and Russian influence in the region. America, for decades, had been developing Ukraine as a strategic hub. Under the Biological Threat Reduction Program, which began the year the USSR fell, by 2014, the US had well over 30 Biological Labs in Ukraine.
One month after Russia had annexed Crimea, and at the same time the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics declared their independence, John Brennan, then the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, visited Kyiv. In an article entitled:
Why CIA Director Brennan Visited Kyiv: The Covert War Has Begun In Ukraine.
Forbes Magazine (Forbes, April 6, 2014) that this was all part of a covert war that had already begun between the US and Russia. Forbes speculated that Brennan had promised to send Kyiv classified military intel on Russian Troop positions and movements.
Coincidentally, there were significant changes in US and Ukraine relations after Brennan’s visit. Most of the militias were brought under the supervision of the Ukraine Army, the AFU. One wonders if this was to share some of this intel with those formerly loosely associated militias. But perhaps most importantly, Brenan promised Ukraine a heightened level of US military aid. By 2016, the US sent Ukraine $85 million in support and $99 million the following year, rising to $3.3 billion by 2021.
Of course, the Russian side of this war also employed a non-traditional military group, the Private Military Company, Wagner. Wagner’s history in Ukraine goes back to those independence struggles in Luhansk and Donetsk. In both cases, chiefly Wagner was fighting the private paramilitaries on the other side, Azov et al., A remarkable turn of events generally seen in feudal societies. Ironically, the last time we saw this in Europe was when knights jousted on horseback.
In Bahkmut, Wagner recorded their most significant victory, claiming they had captured the small town. It is interesting to speculate whether their opposing forces in that battle were also made of private militias.
Even in war, the central government’s power and control seem to wane. These independent militias abide without constraint. As the report from Amnesty International reveals, atrocities against the Ukraine Militias, and incidentally, there have also been atrocities alleged against Wagner, yet without central control, there are no repercussions. International Law, the law between nations, has little effect in this new feudal world.
Wagner, Azov, and all the rest were fighting long before the “War” in Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. Their battles went back at least to 2014 and likely before. If a “cease fire” or “armistice” is eventually declared, will it matter if the militias don’t comply?
Can there be peace without the Militias’ consent?